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Minneapolis' final two programs to merge

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 04/19/10, 5:27PM CDT


State's largest city will have one team representing its seven high schools

Minneapolis, which has sent eight programs to the state tournament for a combined 43 appearances and produced a litany of NHLers – Mike Ramsey, Reed Larson, Tom Chorske and Joe Dziedzic among them – is facing a future altogether different from its past.

Minnesota’s largest city will go from two high school programs to one next season with the merger of the Minneapolis East and West programs. The Minnesota State High School League approved the merger of all seven Minneapolis high schools (Edison, North, Patrick Henry, South Southwest, Roosevelt and Washburn) into one cooperative boys team at its April 12 meeting.

“Each class was getting smaller and smaller with less experience,” said Minneapolis East coach Bill Ross, who figured to have 20 skaters – and potentially no goaltenders – in the program next season. “You could see the inevitable coming. The question was, do you make the decision a year early a year late?”

Minneapolis high school athletic directors were scheduled to meet on Thursday, April 15, to formulate a plan for the merger of the two programs and discuss the process of hiring a head coach. Both Ross and Minneapolis West coach Tom Younghans said they plan to apply for the position.

Minneapolis East went 9-17-0 last season, while West was 9-18-0. West won its first-round Section 6AA playoff game 2-0 over Robbinsdale Cooper before losing 9-0 to eventual state Class AA runner-up Minnetonka in the quarterfinals. Minneapolis East lost 14-0 to Wayzata in its Section 6AA quarterfinal.

Both teams were much more competitive in the newly created Two Rivers Conference. East went 7-7-0 in league play to tie for fourth while West went 3-11-0 to finish seventh in the inaugural season of the eight-team league that stretches along I-94 from Minneapolis to Moose Lake.

“We’re OK during the regular season, we can compete,” Younghans said. “I told my players we could beat every team in (the Two Rivers Conference), but you’ve got to come to play.

The Minneapolis program, which will have the state's largest combined enrollment for any team at around 7,000, is expected to remain in the small-school Two Rivers Conference next season. Despite the massive enrollment, Younghans said he would like to see the state high school give the program the option move out of the Section 6AA, which features state powerhouses Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Wayzata and Benilde-St. Margaret's and play in Class A.

Shrinking numbers in Minneapolis’ youth programs combined with an exodus of top city Bantam players to private schools in the western suburbs left both the East and West programs with few high-caliber player and precious little depth.

“It’s a number game,” Younghans said. “You go out to Wayzata and Eden Prairie and they have over 1,000 kids in the program. If we have only 300, guess what, we’re probably not going to be as good.”

Both Ross and Younghans were in favor of merging the programs.

“In the overall picture, this will make everybody better,” Younghans said. “One of the big reasons is there will be people fighting for a job. The motivation to play this game at a high, competitive level will bring their talents out.

“There is always a tendency, when you are not being pushed, to sit back and take it easy a little bit.”

The merger will reunite several players who combined to lead Minneapolis to an appearance in the state Bantam A tournament two seasons ago. Newton Fuller scored 42 points for West last season to tie for 14th among sophomores statewide. He recently was selected to play on the Section 6A/AA team in the Minnesota Hockey Advanced 16 Festival on April 16-18 in Plymouth. Fuller had two goals and an assist in three games.

Minneapolis East twins Alec and Jack Kelly scored 35 and 29 points, respectively, last season as juniors. Alec Kelly led the Samurais with 22 goals.

“Certainly there will be more depth, more competition,” Ross said. “I think it should be a better team than either of the teams were this year.

“The kids will have to get comfortable with the idea that the East–West rivalry is done. Those were some great games. Maybe the level of hockey wasn’t the best in the state, but there were always great crowds, great interest and good sportsmanship as well.

“The guys are going to miss that, no doubt.”

At the youth level, Minneapolis has merged all of its programs and forms a co-operative with St. Louis Park at some age levels.

“Our youth program has grown hugely the last few years,” said Mike Shogren, the head of hockey for Minneapolis’ youth program. “It’s hard to recruit kids, even young kids, into a program when you are not succeeding. We’ve had a lot more success the last few years.”

Coaching changes entering 2010-11 season

School 2009-10 Coach 2010-2011 Coach Comment
Andover Bill Thoreson/Mark Manney Mark Manney After serving as a co-head coach with Thoreson last season, Manney takes over as the lone head coach. Thoreson stepped down to spend more time with his family.
Buffalo Mike MacMillan Mike MacMillan/Cory Laylin Laylin, a former St. Cloud Apollo star who went on to play for the University of Minnesota, joins MacMillan as a co-head coach for the Bison. Laylin played professional hockey for 16 seasons in six European countries.
Chaska/Chanhassen Steve Olinger No program Chaska and Chanhassen will split into separate programs beginning in 2010-11.
Chaska No program Mike Johnson Johnson is a Minnetonka High graduate who played at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He's been the Minnetonka Bantam A coach the past three seasons. Chaska was part of co-operative program with Chanhassen in 2009-10 and coached by Steve Olinger, who will not return to coach either program. Olinger resigned so he could continue to coach in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League.
Chanhassen No program Chris Wilson Wilson was an assistant coach under Steve Olinger for the Chaska/Chanhassen co-operative program in 2009-10. Wilson, a 1982 graduate of Minnetonka High, has coached in the Minnetonka and Chaska youth hockey programs for 23 years. He also has served as an assistant baseball coach at Minnetonka. This is his first head coaching position at the high school level.
Coon Rapids Joe Law Brandon Mileski Mileski, a Totino-Grace graduate, is a former assistant at Robbinsdale Cooper. He also co-hosts the Beyond the Pond program and prodcues the Common Man show at KFAN. Law, who went 7-46-0 in two seasons, stepped down citing personal reasons.
Dodge County Matt Erredge Eric Hofmann Hofmann was the strength and conditioning coach for the Rochester Ice Hawks of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League last season and also runs Performance Training, an e-training business that also conducts speed and agility camps. Erredge resigned after guiding the Wildcats to an 8-16-3 record last season.
Holy Family Catholic Dave Nelson Noel Rahn Rahn, who owns Velocity Hockey Center in Eden Prairie, won a state championship with Edina in 1988. He went on to play for Wisconsin and St. Cloud State. Nelson coached at Holy Family Catholic for four seasons, inlcuding two as a co-operative program with Waconia. He plans to work as an assistant coach in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League on a team coached by Reed Larson and Steve Olinger.
Hopkins Chad Nyberg Justin DeGriselles DeGriselles, who played at Lakeville and St. Olaf, was a Royals assistant coach the past five seasons. Nyberg resigned in order to move with his family to Willmar after the school year.
International Falls John Prettyman Mike Bolstad Bolstad, an International Falls native who played at Providence College, has been heavily involved in the town's youth program. His older brother, Gerry, is the head coach of the Broncos' girls' team. Prettyman, who had previously retired as an elementary school teacher, stepped down after 35 years of coaching in the Broncos' program.
Irondale Jeff Martin Tadd Tuomie Tuomie played at Notre Dame and professionally in multiple minor leagues. He has coached in the Irondale Youth Hockey Association and the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. Tuomie is the creator of the Pugi, an oversized puck used as a training aid. Martin resigned after the season and plans to spend more time with his sons (ages 4 and 6) as they start playing at the Mite level.
La Crescent Denny Hartman JP Piche' Piche', the Lancers' head coach from 1992-2004, returns for his second stint behind the bench. Piche' has been heavily involved in the La Crescent youth program. He also is the Lancers' boys' soccer coach. Hartman resigned his position and has moved to St. Cloud, where he previously has been involved in the town's youth program. The Lancers went 7-18-0 in Hartman's lone season as head coach.
Le Sueur-Henderson/St. Peter Jeff Christ Shawn Carlson Carlson, an elementary school teacher in Belle Plaine, played at Two Harbors and UM-Crookston and was an assistant coach at Alexandria before taking an assistant position with the Bulldogs last season. Christ resigned after adding a track and field coaching position to his duties that already included head cross country coach.
Minneapolis No program Shawn Reid A Lakeville native, Reid played at Gustavus Adolphus and was an assistant coach in both the men's and women's programs there. He coached the boys team at St. Marks's (Mass.) the past two seasons. The merger of Minneapolis East and West programs for the 2010-11 season creates one team for all seven of the city's public schools.
Minneapolis East Bill Ross No program Ross guided the Samurais to a 9-17-0 record and has said he will apply for the head coaching position for the merged East and West programs.
Minneapolis West Tom Younghans No program Younghans guided the Mustangs to a 9-18-0 record and has said he will apply for the head coaching position for the merged East and West programs.
Minnehaha Academy Darin Thompson John Gould Gould played for Bloomington Jefferson and Holy Angels in high school and has been coaching multiple age levels in the Tucson, Ariz., area where he most recently was based as a junior scout. Thompson compiled a 15-36-2 record in two seasons.
Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake Ben Monahan Sheldon Weston Weston, 47, is a Roseau native who played at St. Cloud State and was involved with the Sauk Rapids hockey program for 25 years -- the last 20 as the high school team's head coach -- before being dismissed this spring. Monahan resigned after one season as head coach to take over the girls' hockey program in Andover.
Moose Lake Sherm Liimatainen Josh Gamst Gamst played for the Rebels in the late 1990s and comes from a hockey playing family that includes cousin Brett Hedican, the retired former NHL defenseman from North St. Paul. Liimatainen, 70, guided the Rebels to an 18-8-1 record and the inaugural Two Rivers Conference championship in 2009-10. He officially stepped down in mid-September.
Pine City/Rush City Tim Schlichting Brett Westbrook Westbrook, who played at Irondale High and Bethel University, served as the assistant coach at Pine City/Rush City the past five seasons. He served as an assistant coach at Mahtomedi from 1998-2001 and won a Texas state championship as a head coach of Mansfield in 2003. Schlichting resigned after an 8-18-0 season, his fifth leading the program, citing family reasons. The Dragons went 63-67-2 in Schlichting's five seasons as head coach.
Princeton Todd Frederick Jeff Hanson Hanson played at Princeton, graduating in 1999, and has been a Tigers assistant coach the last four seasons. Frederick, who guided the Tigers to two state tournament appearances and had a 156-144-14 record in 12 seasons, resigned to spend more time with his family.
Red Wing George Nemanich Mike Belisle Belisle served as the Red Wing Bantam A coach last season. He's also been an assistant at the high school level. Just the second coach in the history of Red Wing's program, Nemanich steps down after leading the Wingers to a surprising appearance in the Section 1A title game. He guided Red Wing to the state Class A championship in 1997 to cap an undefeated (28-0-0) season.
Redwood Valley Steve Pacheco Nate Sunderman Sunderman, an assistant coach last season, takes over the program after the resignation of Pacheco, who guided the Cardinals to a 17-6-1 record last season. Sunderman, 26, played for Sauk Centre (now called Prairie Centre) and attended St. Cloud State University.
Sauk Rapids Sheldon Weston Brian McCormack McCormack is an Alberta native who was a scoring phenom playing for British Columbia junior teams in Victoria and Penticton. He played two seasons during an injury marred career at St. Cloud State and was an assistant coach at River Lakes last season. Weston was dismissed after 20 seasons as the Storm's head coach. In 2000 he led the Sauk Rapids to its only state tournament apperance. The Storm went 14-12-1 last season.
Sleepy Eye Matt Dockter Rob Tauer Tauer is a Sleepy Eye native who played in the town's Junior Gold program until he senior season, when he played for New Ulm. Tauer, 29, played junior hockey in Oregon before joining the club team at Iowa State. Dockter resigned in May after a 3-22-0 season guiding the Indians.
St. Francis Tony Hoops Tyler Schaff Schaff was an assistant coach in the Saints' girls hockey hockey program the last two seasons. He was a multi-sport athlete at Cambridge High School and St. John's University. Hoops will coach the East Ridge girls' hockey program in 2010-11.
St. Paul Academy Craig Norwich/Joe Dziedzic Joe Dziedzic After taking over in midseason on an interim basis in 2009-10, Dziedzic takes the position in a full-season capacity for 2010-11. The former Mr. Hockey at Minneapolis Edison (1990) played for the University of Minnesota and in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
St. Paul Como Park Neil Paitich David Bakken Bakken, who played at Williams College, served as an assistant head coach at St. Olaf College. He played on the Wright Homes almost 40 teams that won U.S. Pond Hockey Championships Open Division titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Paitich retired after guiding the Cougars to an 11-15-1 record last season, including a 6-0 loss to Hill-Murray in the Section 4AA quarterfinals.
St. Paul Highland Park No program Tom Doyle Highland Park has fielded an independent junior varsity team the last two seasons and was part of a co-operative varsity program with St. Paul Como Park in 2009-10. The Scots will be fielding an independent varsity team in 2010-11 for the first time since 1987. Doyle was an assistant coach for Minneapolis East last season.
Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Ben Brovold No program Walker, Hackensack and Akeley will join Park Rapids in a co-operative program. Brovold, who guided the Wolves during all three of their seasons as a varsity program, will work as a scout for the Rochester Ice Hawks of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.
Worthington Gary Brandt Pat Christopherson Christopherson's hiring was approved at Worthington's July 20 school board meeting. The Jackson city administrator has 14 years of experience coaching youth hockey in Edina and Silver Bay. Brandt resigned in April after leading the Trojans to a 3-18-0 season.